Sen. Kennedy faces criticism after breaking with Trump on FCC deal

U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.)

U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) is facing criticism over his attempt to scuttle the Federal Communication Commission's auction of C-Band spectrum.

Kennedy recently came out against FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to auction off C-Band airwaves. 

C-Band is a midband spectrum seen as crucial to developing a widespread 5G network in the United States. Pai, with the support of fellow Republican FCC Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr, wants to pay satellite companies between $3 billion to $5 billion, with another $9.7 billion down the road, if they auction off C-Band.

The newly available frequencies would then be auctioned off to wireless carriers to deliver high-speed 5G across the nation. Part of the proceeds from the auction would be go to satellite providers to speed 5G development.

Pai, who has called a public auction “the best bet to ensure fairness,” said the FCC will vote on the plan at its Friday, Feb. 28 meeting, and with three of five commissioners in favor of it, schedule the auction to begin Dec. 8.

In a folksy but furious speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Kennedy argued the FCC is making a major mistake that must be halted before it is completed. The federal regulatory agency is being taken and taxpayers will foot the bill, he said.

”We can negotiate a better deal, Mr. Chairman,” Kennedy said. “We can negotiate a better deal. If they do this without telling the president, without consulting with Congress and without trying to negotiate a better deal for the American taxpayer, then we ought to change their name from the Federal Communications Commission to the Federal Sucker Commission, because that’s all they are.”

Kennedy's comments were quickly rebuked in a statement released by 5G Action Now, an advocacy organization focused on the deployment of 5G technology. 

"It is extremely disappointing that Sen. Kennedy is looking to slam the brakes on the progress we saw last week with Chairman Pai's announcement of a public auction of the C-Band spectrum," 5G Action Now spokesman Ian Prior said. "Make no mistake, the United States is in a race to 5G development and deployment against China and the longer we wait, the further we fall behind. We have already seen one ally – the United Kingdom – put our national security at risk by letting Huawei build part of its 5G infrastructure." 

Vice President Mike Pence and White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow are on board with Pai.

"We implore Sen. Kennedy to work with the Trump Administration and the FCC toward our collective goals of national and economic security in the 21st century by supporting their efforts to get to full 5G development and deployment before Beijing does," Prior said. 

Kennedy said while Pai, whom he said is a friend, is a brilliant man, he hasn’t been dazzled by the negotiation skills on display over 5G.

Kennedy's remarks came as Chinese tech company Huawei faces charges for racketeering from the Department of Justice

Prior said not only would allowing the auction put the U.S. in a more favorable position internationally, but it would also help Kennedy's home state.

"Fortunately, Chairman Pai's plan will allow us to catch and eventually beat China," Prior said. "Doing so would benefit not only our national and economic security, but also would allow Louisiana to supercharge its economy and provide its residents with cutting edge technology to make their lives easier." 

Kennedy said he is preparing a bill with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York – noting that the two polar opposites were brought together on this issue – to prevent the FCC from making this deal.

Another Democratic senator has joined with Kennedy to criticize the proposal, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) as well as Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-NY), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.). 

Efforts to obtain comments from Sen. Kennedy and the FCC late Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

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